Authorities in Madrid have taken their standoff with Barcelona to a whole new level, raiding government offices, arresting Catalan cabinet members, confiscating 10 million ballot papers, all to thwart a banned October 1st independence referendum. It’s hard to see at this point how the vote can happen. Has Madrid won the battle but lost the PR war? We’ll question the reasons for a second attempt. And if Catalans really want independence, why has the reaction been so much stronger this time?
Eduard SALSAS – International lawyer, Squire Patton Boggs Jean Marc SANCHEZ – Lawyer, Paris Bar, Franco-Hispanic Commission Isabel-Helena MARTI – Member of Catalan National Assembly Carles BOIX – Politics professor, Princeton University
Six years of massive demonstrations, with hundreds of thousands of citizens taking part, are the real proof of the enormous size and scope of the Catalan sovereignty movement, a massive and persistent democratic phenomenon, unprecedented in Europe. Ever since the first demonstration in July 2010, provoked by the judgment of the Constitutional Court against the Statute of Autonomy, which had been previously approved by referendum, the social base in favour of the right of the people of Catalonia to decide their future has continued to grow in size and strength.
The political expression of this trend is reflected in a parliamentary majority, as a result of the last Catalan elections in September 2015, with a participation of 75%. 72 Catalan MPs were elected with an electoral programme in favour of independence and a further 11 in favour of holding a referendum on self-determination, without advocating “yes” or “no.” So there are 83 MPs from a total of 135 (61.5%) who have the democratic mandate to resolve the conflict over the political status of Catalonia through the ballot box, as was the case in the UK with Scotland.
Impressive images of mass demonstrations in favour of Catalan independence have gone around the world. A vigorous civic movement, self-organized and supported by a broad sector of the middle classes, is forcing a change in the way politics is conducted in Catalonia. In the view of this grassroots movement, independence is not only linked to claims of identity (language and culture), but also, and especially, to the desire of establishing an own legal framework, based on complete self-rule, and oriented towards the creation of an equitable, prosperous and democratically advanced society. This collective purpose, widely shared, is reflected in the configuration of the Catalan parliament, with a political majority in favour of independence following the last regional elections held on 27 September 2015. With a turnout around 75%, 48% voted for independence and an additional 11.5% were in favour of holding a referendum on self-determination. Defenders of the status quo obtained 39% of the votes. Opinion polls indicate that 80% of Catalans -therefore, including many who voted for non-independentist parties- want to decide this issue in a democratic consultation, and that 87% would accept the outcome and adapt to the new political scenario. In spite of that, the Spanish government has repeatedly expressed its unwillingness to begin talks on the issue.
What has led such a broad segment of Catalan citizens to decide to support independence? Why have Catalan citizens chosen to organize themselves and to create influential civic platforms, alongside the traditional political parties? How are Spanish political leaders and institutions facing up to this situation? And what about Europeans? Is what is happening in Catalonia just an internal Spanish affair or does it involve the rest of Europe too?